Rosa Rúa Nahuelquir & Atilio Curiñanco
On the 23rd of August 2002, Atilio Curiñanco and Rosa Rua Nahuelquir moved onto the plot of Santa Rosa, an estate measuring 535 hectares, in order to escape unemployment and the lack of possibilities. Progress is a word that has always appeared in Atilio’s testimonies, and both were convinced that the only way to escape the marginalisation of the shantytown was to return to the land. This was the land they once had to leave in search of opportunities, just as Rosa had left Cushamen as a child, and Atilio had moved from Leleque.
With the money Rosa had received following the closure of Texcom (a factory located in the outskirts of Esquel where she worked) they bought what was necessary to return to the land and to build a future together with their children and grandchildren. They did not have to cut a wire fence to enter the estate: the wires were rusted and lying on the ground, and the land ready to be worked. Atilio could see that this plot of abandoned land had not changed from his childhood memories. While it rained during that day, they constructed a temporary house in the protection of some trees and beside a small stream, where they could take cover from the rain and the cold. They intended to leave this home made of metal sheets soon and build another with materials better able to resist the strength of the Patagonian weather. They would level the ground and open channels for watering and sowing - a tough job that they confronted with delight because they had returned to the land, a land belonging to nobody. In spring, or perhaps in summer, when the days would be longer and milder, they intended to build a permanent home.
Shortly after their arrival, on the 26th of August, a patrol from the police station in El Maitén arrived, asking what they were doing there. They had nothing to hide and so explained their plans and showed the statement they had been given at the police station in Esquel, where they had announced that they would move onto the estate. They also explained that an employee of the Autarkic Institute for Colonization and Rural Development (IAC) had assured them – by word, without giving any written record – that this was public land. The police officers left and they continued with their work. On the 31st of August, they returned, this time to notify them that they had been reported for usurpation by Ronald McDonald, manager of the Leleque Estancia, which belongs to the South Argentina Land Company (CTSA), property of Edizione Holding, which belongs to the Benetton corporation. At that time, Atilio and Rosa had only heard of the company, but they did not know the real power behind the Benetton family, nor that its respect for human rights and diversity was merely a business strategy. They had only wanted to return to the land, nothing more, and had never even heard of the United Colours. They were soon to understand more of the empire, and after travelling to Italy in November 2004, they would see the real magnitude of the corporation.
The inquiry continued through September, and in spite of this burden, they continued to work the land until the 2nd of October, when they were evicted. The examining magistrate in Esquel, Jose Colabelli, ordered that the land be repossessed, in the light of the penal and civil demands made by the Company. On one sunny morning, the house was dismantled and the metal sheets, tools and animals were confiscated and taken to the nearby town of El Maitén. What had once been a dream for Atilio and Rosa had turned into a nightmare. Now the brothers Carlo and Luciano Benetton showed their real face. At this time they turned to action: to encampments at the entrance to the Farm, route closures, Mapuche speeches, solidarity, hopes and fears - all that reveals the Mapuchean roots and character. The couple even appeared in the international press, and their faces, that would surely have been convenient for one of the famous publicities of Olivero Toscani – star publicist of Benetton -, became well known.
The situation remained unchanged as time passed until May 2004, with the couple evicted from Santa Rosa, still convinced that the estate was public land, and even Mapuche territory, and now the IAC had denied their spoken statement. During this time Atilio had lost his job in the cold-storage plant in Esquel. Now there was no secure income for the family to count on, but they continued forward, fixed on the hope of returning.
On the 6th day of that cold May, judge Colabelli was dismissed for bad conduct after wrongly ordering the eviction of the Mapuchean family, Fermín, a member of the Vuelta del Rio community, in March 2003. It seemed good sign that the judge, who was preferred by the powerful, had seemingly fallen in disgrace. That evening there were celebrations as trutrukas and pifilkas (Mapuche music instruments) sounded in Rawson, the town where he had been judged. There was euphoria, but also the knowledge that the trial with the Company would be a difficult contest and that Justice had never been a friend of the Mapuche. Two landowners’ associations had already presented warnings in the local press that they would not accept a sentence that would favour the case of Atilio and Rosa. The first came from the Rural Society of Esquel in October 2002 and the second from the Federation of Rural Societies of Chubut in May 2004.
The sentence was in favour of the Company, but the penal complaint was defeated due to a lack of evidence to prove the crime of usurpation. Their objective had not been to send Atilio and Rosa to prison, but rather to obtain their immediate eviction. A prison sentence would have been a lead-lined life-jacket to a business image already under threat by the media coverage of the trial. For the CTSA, the most important issue at stake in the civil inquiry was to consolidate the disputed property as private, and the sentence, unsurprisingly, worked in its favour.
Almost immediately, there were announcements of investments in the province by the Company, to the delight of governor Mario Das Neves, and of donations of firewood, gratefully received by Oscar Currilen, the mayor of El Maitén, an island locality in the CTSA ocean. All of this was aimed towards uniting the colours and guaranteeing the success of the Company.
Then, Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, took the position of mediator and a meeting in Italy was arranged for November 2004. The trip of a Mapuche delegation, a disappointing meeting in Rome with Luciano Benetton - il cappo di tutti cappi -, resulting in the donation of 2500 hectares of questionable land, the Argentinian diplomacy trying to maintain its objective of ensuring the presence of the corporation in Patagonia, and critisism of its mediators. This was a chapter where accusations were exchanged, but no winner emerged.
Following the return of the delegation to Argentina, there were times of movement and times of silence. At the end of 2005, the Company offered the couple a different plot of land, which Atilio and Rosa refused on the grounds that it was infertile and they continued to campaign for their estate. In November/December 2006 another delegation from Mapuche left for Italy. Now in February 2007, Santa Rosa is not only the dream of a couple, but the claim of a whole people.
By Hernán Scandizzo, Indymedia.org